Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Two, Day One

Print Friendly

Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Two, Day One

This is the second week, day one of Around the World in 120 Days for The Invisible Mentor’s Virtual Literary World Tour. Last week we stopped our Tour in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Originally, my decision when I left Canada was to go to Iceland. Since this is a very fluid process for me, changes will happen.

It makes sense now when you think about it, that I would want to go to Jamaica early on in the tour – since I was born there – although I didn’t know it when I first mapped the tour route. On this leg of the trip, we meet Marcia Mayne who shares her recipe for escoveitched fish, places to visit in Jamaica and great books by Jamaican authors.

On the side trip to Jamaica, I am looking at three books:

  1. The Duppy, Anthony C. Winkler, 2008
  2. No Telephone to Heaven, Michelle Cliff, 1987
  3. Brother Man (MacMillan Caribbean Writers), Roger Mais, 1954

All of the three authors listed above were born in Kingston, Jamaica. No passage in The Duppy, No Telephone to Heaven, or Brother Man touched me the way On the Road and The Dew Breaker did. However, in all three books, some of the characters go on journeys. In The Duppy, Taddeus Augustus Baps dies and travels to Heaven, first in a minivan, then travels through a field, into a culvert. God is his best friend with whom he takes trips. In No Telephone to Heaven, Clare Savage travels between Jamaica, the United States and the United Kingdom. And in Brother Man, Brother Man travels around his neighbourhood healing others. The characters are taking very different tours. To add some historical context to the stories, the 1980s were tough times in Jamaica, and the country got it’s independence from England in 1962

Book Summaries

The Duppy by Anthony C. Winkler

I loved The Duppy by Anthony C. Winkler for no other reason than it made me laugh. It has a fantastic start, “One Saturday morning, not very long ago, I dropped dead and turned into a duppy [ghost]. Some finicky members of the book-buying public will no doubt challenge this opening. (I welcome this opposition.) They will gripe, as a friend of mine did when I showed him this first page…” The narrator of the story is Taddeus Augustus Baps, a duppy. This book is a satire and a parody, and very Jamaican. It makes fun of the way of life in Jamaica. As someone who has not lived in Jamaica for close to 30 years, I appreciated The Duppy. When you pull away all the joking, and seriously look at The Duppy, there are many lessons for us to learn.

The Duppy is quite funny. One morning while Taddeus is doing the accounting for his business, he feels a sharp pain and drops to the ground and dies, but at first he doesn’t know that he is dead because he is walking around. He notices a body on the floor and thinks that someone came into his home to die. When he turns over the person, he notices that the body is his and for the first time realizes that he is dead and is now a duppy. He starts wailing and tries to force himself into his body, hoping it will return to life.

Mabel the housekeeper comes to check on him and sees him dead on the floor and she starts to wail. She runs and gets Hector, the gardener, who checks the pulse to verify that Taddeus Baps is really dead. She asks him if he got paid for the week, and he indicated no. Hector takes his boss’ wallet, which is overflowing with money since Taddeus hadn’t made a bank deposit yet, and takes out his wages and gives Mabel hers. At Mabel’s prodding they take out two weeks’ notice pay, Christmas bonus, even though they have never received bonus at Christmas and it wasn’t Christmastime. They take out leap year pay, although it isn’t a leap year, and they keep on taking until only $20 is left in the wallet.

We see what life is like in Heaven, and are taken on an adventure with Taddeus, who becomes God’s best friend. He criticizes God about creation so God gives him the opportunity to create the world. Taddeus discovers that the whole creation business is not as easy as he first thought. The Duppy by Anthony C. Winkler is quite funny but not the type of book you would want to read more than once.

No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff

No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff takes place in Jamaica, the US and the United Kingdom. The main character is Clare Savage. The story starts off with guerilla soldiers training, farming and growing marijuana on Clare’s grandmother’s property, with her consent – she is in her mid-thirties. The story is very much about racism, discrimination and oppression and people’s violent response. No Telephone to Heaven moves back and forth between the three countries with Clare at various stages of her life – 14, 20 and mid-30s. As Clare evolves, she sees the poverty in some areas of Jamaica, and how fragmented the country is.No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff

In one of the stories, Kitty, her husband, Boy and two daughters (Clare is the elder daughter) move to the USA in 1960. Boy acclimatizes quickly, pretending to be White because he looks like it. When he stops on the way to rest in a motel while driving from Florida to New York, he leaves his family in the car while he gets a room for the night, and he pretends to be a white man because they do not provide accommodation for Blacks. When he gets to New York, he still pretends to be White, and when the people he is with at the bars are offensive he keeps quiet.

His wife on the other hand, responds in her own way. She works at a laundry and her role is to insert little sayings from a “Mrs. White”, a fictitious person. One day after being insulted in a job interview, she starts inserting notes speaking against discrimination and oppression. Customers react and start taking their business elsewhere. Two people are fired, but they are innocent. Kitty admits to the offence, but her boss doesn’t believe her. Fed up, Kitty takes her younger daughter and returns to Jamaica. Kitty dies from a brain hemorrhage five years later and the younger daughter is sent back to the US to her father. During the five years Kitty and Boy are apart, neither give an inch – Kitty has no intention of returning to the US and Boy has no intention of returning to Jamaica.

Shortly after her mother’s death, the older daughter Clare Savage leaves the US for the UK and the rest of the story is focused on her. Eventually she drops out of University in the United Kingdom because of racism, and subsequently returns to Jamaica. The story ends where it starts. No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff is a difficult book to read – when people are oppressed they find ways to liberate themselves. We need to read books like No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff because we need to understand other people’s struggle. Then and only then will we be able to eliminate racism, discrimination and oppression.

Brother Man (MacMillan Caribbean Writers) by Roger Mais

I had a very weird response while reading Brother Man by Roger Mais. I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, although the author does a very good job with the story. While reading Brother Man by Roger Mais, there were times I felt a sense of déjà vu – I’ve been here before, it’s almost as if I am reading sections of the Bible, but let me pause for a minute. You have a cast of characters: Brother Man, Minette, Girlie, Papacita, Jesmina, Shine, and Cordelia living in a ghetto area in West Kingston. The main character though is John Power, otherwise known as Brother Man. He is a shoemaker, healer and a kindhearted person who will give away the shirt off his back. He is also naïve about people and their motivations.Brother Man by Roger Mais

Because of his ability to heal the ill, he gains cult status, and in the book you get the sense that people view him the way they would view Jesus Christ, or some other prophet. Because of his gifts and kindhearted nature, some people despise him. Brother Man is always giving money to others when they need it, even though he doesn’t have a lot. Surprisingly, many view him as being stupid for doing that, and others who have been recipients of this goodness are not thankful because he does it for everyone. Brother Man took Minette off the street a couple of years ago, but has never behaved improperly toward her, even though she wishes to enter into an intimate relationship with him.

Although Papacita lives with Girlie, he wants Minette for himself, and is very jealous of Brother Man. Brother Man heals Cordelia when she is quite ill, but is unable to heal her son Tad. Cordelia is suffering because her “baby father” has been arrested for possession of marijuana. Jesmina is very kind to her sister, Cordelia and helps her out a lot. Cordelia doesn’t want her sister to leave her, and this burden, impacts Jesmina’s relationship with Shine. Although Brother Man has always been good to her, Cordelia forgets his goodness and grows to hate him because he cannot cure her son Tad. She turns against Brother Man and goes to an obeah man. Additionally, she gets some counterfeit Jamaican coins from Papacita and plants them in Brother Man’s home and he gets arrested.

Papacita and Girlie do not have a good relationship because he is a womanizer and she is very jealous. They fight all the time, and he finally leaves her. Girlie doesn’t deal with it very well and ends up killing him. Brother Man gets bail but people turn against him. Another biblical similarity is when they stone Brother Man just like Stephen in the Book of Acts in the Bible. The difference is that Brother Man survives.

The tone of the three books are very different, but they are worth the read.

Interview With Marcia Mayne

Avil Beckford: What are five books that you would recommend as must-reads? (Five books that profoundly moved you). Marcia Mayne

  1. The Painted Canoe , Anthony Winkler
  2. In My Father’s Shade, Rachel Manley
  3. The Harder They Come, Michael Thelwell
  4. From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island, Lorna Goodison
  5. The Children of Sisyphus (Caribbean Modern Classics), Orlando Patterson

Avil Beckford: If you wanted to convince others to visit Jamaica, what would your argument be?

Marcia Mayne: Jamaica’s beauty lies in the smiles of her people, the warmth of their hospitality, her fascinating history and her many and varied natural resources.

With its close proximity to the US mainland, it’s the perfect destination for a quick beach getaway or a longer trip to explore some of the island’s historic great houses, wander its Georgian towns, or discover some of its 24 species of endemic birds.

Jamaica is blessed with a plethora of natural attractions including the legendary Dunn’s River Falls, YS Falls’ with its seven natural falls, the majestic Blue Mountains, tropical wetlands, underground caves, the 500 species of tropical ferns that line the protected 3-mile Fern Gully gorge, and Negril’s famous 7-mile beach from where you can catch the most spectacular sunset in the Caribbean.

It’s always summer in Jamaica.

Avil Beckford: What places would they have to visit?

Marcia Mayne: Greenwood or Good Hope Great House, Falmouth, Dunn’s River or YS Falls, Negril (Rick’s Cafe to watch the sun set and the cliff divers) or any of the north coast beaches, rafting on the Rio Grande or the Martha Brae River, the Blue Mountains.

Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite dish, and what is the recipe?

Marcia Mayne: Escoveitched Fish is one of my favourites. Here’s my recipe:

Escoveitched Fish Recipe

3 lbs. fish (whole)

4 tsp. black pepper and 3 tsp salt, combined

2 or 3 limes (or lemons)

1 Scotch Bonnett pepper or other hot pepper, cut in strips

1/2 cup oil for frying

2 cups vinegar

1 tsp. pimento seeds

2 large onions, sliced

1/2 tsp. of whole black pepper grains

  1. Wash fish thoroughly in water to which juice of limes have been added. Dry thoroughly. When dry, sprinkle the fish on both sides and on the inside with salt and pepper. Set aside on paper towels. (Note: Paper towels will absorb any liquid from the fish so the hot oil doesn’t pop or splash when you put it in. You can also coat both sides of the fish lightly with flour.)
  2.  Heat oil in frying pan to boiling and fry fish on both sides until nice and crisp. Set aside, preferably in a glass bowl.
  3.  Pour vinegar into a saucepan, add sliced onions, peppers, pimento seeds and whole black pepper grains. Bring to a boil then let simmer until onions are tender. Remove from fire and let cool.
  4.  Pour over fish and leave overnight (or for at least 4 hours) so the fish can soak up the mixture.
  5.  Serve with Festival (flour and cornmeal dumplings), bammie (made from cassava), or rice and peas. Escoveitched fish can be eaten at any meal.

Avil Beckford: Who is your favourite musician from?

Marcia Mayne: I have several favorites: Beres Hammond, Monty Alexander, Tarrus Riley, and Bob Marley.

Marcia Mayne travels a world full of books, music, art, fun people and great food. She raves about them constantly. Currently, she is journeying through Jamaica, her home country, and writing about the places she missed at her blog

After our Tour in Jamaica we will return to Canada and spend some time with Paul Quarrington’s Whale Music, and finally, we arrive on the international scene in Iceland with Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness and Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason. We will article have a little chat with Iceland’s Runa Magnusdottir and will learn about her must-read books and favourite dish.

Please try the recipe! What are your thoughts so far about the Virtual Literary World Tour. Does any of the books sound like book you’d like to read? Please write your comments in the box below. Book links are affiliate links.

Book List

  1. The Duppy, Anthony C. Winkler, 2008
  2. No Telephone to Heaven, Michelle Cliff, 1987
  3. Brother Man (MacMillan Caribbean Writers), Roger Mais
  4. The Painted Canoe , Anthony Winkler
  5. In My Father’s Shade, Rachel Manley
  6. The Harder They Come, Michael Thelwell
  7. From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island, Lorna Goodison
  8. The Children of Sisyphus (Caribbean Modern Classics), Orlando Patterson
  9. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  10. The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat